Safety 101: How To Prepare Your Boat for a Hurricane
The experts at BoatUS offer their top tips on how to give your pride and joy its best chance for surviving a storm.
U.S. Navy Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who commanded allied air, land, and sea forces during World War II, said it best: “The time for taking all measures for a ship’s safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to be unnecessary.”
His advice remains relevant for recreational boaters when it comes to hurricane preparation. Mike McCook, Field Operations Manager of the BoatUS Catastrophe (CAT) Team for more than 30 years, says that when it comes to readying your boat, “Prepare, prepare, prepare.” By this, he means that hurricane planning should start well ahead of hurricane season. On the Atlantic coast of the U.S., hurricane season runs June 1 through November 30, though storms can — and do — happen earlier or later.
Here’s what you should be doing long before a named storm has been announced:
- Create a hurricane plan.
- If you keep your boat in a slip, review your dock contract for language that may require you to take certain steps when a hurricane threatens.
- Ask the marina manager what hurricane plan the marina has in place. Some marinas require boat owners to have their own hurricane plans on file. Download a worksheet here.
- If offered, join your marina’s “hurricane club,” which often requires a nonrefundable deposit in early spring to ensure your boat is among the earliest to be hauled should a storm come calling. All GEICO | BoatUS Marine Insurance Program policies receive named storm haulout reimbursement: When your boat is in the path of a NOAA named storm (within the “cone”), you are eligible for 50% off the cost of labor, up to $1,000, to have your boat professionally hauled or prepared. (Sign up for named storm notifications that may impact your area using the BoatUS App or track online at com/Hurricanes.)
- At the start of boating season, call your insurance company to verify that you have the right coverage and that you’re in the right coverage area. Once a hurricane is threatening, it’s too late to get or change coverage.
- Access the BoatUS library full of useful articles, downloadable guides, and videos on how to prepare your boat for a hurricane as well as other resources.
- Decide where to keep your boat.
- Ashore: Store well above the anticipated storm surge. Add extra jackstands chained together and sitting on plywood pads so they don’t sink into the ground. Consider strapping your boat to eyes embedded in concrete.
- At a fixed dock: Double up on docklines and arrange them so your boat resembles a spider suspended in the center of a web. Protect lines against chafing. Use the longest lines possible to account for storm surge while not allowing the boat to hit the dock, pilings, or other boats. Arrange the bow toward open water.
- At a floating dock: Ensure pilings are tall enough to withstand storm surge.
- At a mooring or anchor: Helix moorings are preferred. Check the mooring chain condition. At anchor, a scope of 10:1 is preferred with a 50/50 chain-to-line ratio. Using tandem anchors increases the boat’s chances of staying put. Chafe gear is essential.
- In a “hurricane hole”: Make sure your boat is protected on all sides from open fetch and unrestricted storm surge. Avoid a location with a rocky bottom.
- Trailerable boats: Inspect your trailer to make sure it’s operable. Store in a garage, if possible. If storing outside, avoid parking under or near trees. Let some air out of the trailer tires and block the wheels off the ground. Anchor the boat and trailer to the ground with straps. Remove transom drain plug.
- On lifts/davits: When possible, store on shore. If moving it is not possible, remove the drain plug. Tie the boat securely to its lifting machinery. The BoatUS CAT Team reports that attaching the boat with heavy straps to well-secured cleats can be effective (if storm surge does not reach the boat). Plug the engine’s exhaust outlet and remove valuables. Clear debris from cockpit drains.
- High-rise storage racks: Older storage racks are more vulnerable to damage than those built in the last few years. If there’s any doubt about the structure’s ability to stand up to an approaching storm, boats should be placed on trailers and moved elsewhere.
- Find and fix potential breaking points.
- Add chafe gear to all lines, including docklines or mooring/anchor lines.
- Check cleats and chocks to ensure they’re large enough and have appropriate backing plates. Don’t put more than two lines on a single cleat. Lines should be run parallel to the cleat base to avoid wrenching it from the deck.
- Strip all loose gear that creates windage, such as canvas covers, bimini tops, outriggers, antennas, anchors, life rings, dinghies, and so on. Anything that cannot be removed should be lashed securely. Unstep sailboat masts if possible or, if not, remove sails. Secure halyards.
- Use adequate fenders and fender boards to prevent dock rash.
- Remove electronics, ships documents, personal belongings, and any loose gear. Secure cabinets and cabin doors.
- Remove cowl ventilators and seal openings. Cover instrument gauges with duct tape. Close all but the cockpit drain seacocks and shove a plug into the engine’s exhaust ports. (Don’t forget to remove it after the storm has passed!)
- Tape up any cockpit or deck hatches to prevent wind-blown rain from entering the boat.
After the Storm
After a storm has passed and authorities are allowing travel, get to your boat as quickly as possible. It’s your responsibility to protect your boat from further damage and its equipment from theft, regardless of condition.
- Call your insurance company. Identify the exact location and condition of the boat. If you have GEICO | BoatUS Marine Insurance, start your claim online using the BoatUS App.
- Use caution. Leave children and pets at home. Look for leaking fuel, exposed electrical lines, sewage backups, missing dock boards, and snakes.
- Be prepared to show proof of ownership if requested, and follow directions from marina management and authorities. Never smoke in a boat storage facility that’s been hit by a hurricane as fuel from tossed boats may have contaminated the grounds.
- Bring supplies such as duct tape, basic tools, extra line, pencil and paper, camera, bug spray, boots, gloves, cleaning gear, trash bags, and anticorrosion spray. Secure broken rigging and railings or seal cracks and holes.
- Check the boat for damage, chafed lines, and broken ports or hatches. Monitor the water level in the bilge, and check that the bilge pump is working.
- If your boat is sunk, beached, or otherwise in need of salvage, let your insurance company make the arrangements. If your marina wants to act as a contractor, it should have your permission and the agreement of your insurance company before moving or salvaging your boat.